For Brother Hen, the recipe for success is simple: two chefs, a few chooks and some “damn good food”.
Wait. Chooks? In a first for Moonee Ponds (and maybe even Melbourne) this busy Pascoe Vale Road cafe has chickens in its back courtyard – exotic breeds who typically lay one egg a day each.
“We wanted to do something different,” says Michael Angiolino, who co-owns Brother Hen with his friend Prabh Singh Dhaliwal. “I grew up with chickens in the back garden. It gives our place a homely feel.” The family-friendly cafe does indeed look cosy. There’s a large dining space in the back room, and behind that, the courtyard housing the chickens and some greenery. (Of course, the demand for eggs is far too great for just the resident poultry – the kitchen goes through hundreds each day.)
Angiolino and Dhaliwal met more than ten years ago, when Dhaliwal took a job at Frank’s Seafood – Angiolino’s father’s Italian restaurant in Niddrie. “He’s Indian and I’m Italian,” says Angiolino. “But we love food from all around the world, and we like to experiment. We don’t like to be bound by one cuisine or food culture; we use our taste buds as our guide.” Brother Hen offers an all-day breakfast along with a vast lunch menu that used to change three times a year, but now only changes occasionally, as customers have come to love (and enthusiastically request) their favourites. The cafe’s signature Crispy Fried Eggs (super crispy on the bottom, runny on the top, and finished with truffle oil, savoury granola, goats cheese and pumpkin hummus) will probably always remain. The Golden Gaytime baos are a hit, too.
Moonee Ponds is the latest inner northern suburb to be regenerated by a new generation of residents and businesses. Angiolino grew up nearby and has witnessed firsthand the positive impact on the local economy and lifestyle. “I know the area well, and I think it’s moving in a great direction,” he says. “Earlier generations from around Europe, especially Italy and Greece, have introduced some rich cultural influences. Our customers are really diverse – from old-timers and families who have lived in the area for generations, to newer residents – young professionals and families – who are realising Moonee Ponds is a great place to live.” Here are some more cafes to check out in Moonee Ponds:
Darling Street Espresso – Athol Street This welcoming red brick cafe in a one-time corner store is a hidden gem. Everything is made in-house, and much of the produce on the menu is grown in the cafe’s Riddles Creek kitchen garden. Darling Street Espresso is owned and operated by chef Robyn Neaves, who previously owned fine-dining restaurants Cases Farro and The Curious Goose. Here, a relaxed vibe is the order of the day – and very good coffee, as the name suggests. Industry Beans supplies the coffee, which includes a cold drip, a “split shot” (a single-origin espresso with a piccolo chaser) and a tasting-paddle of three coffees.
20 Young Street Cafe & Catering – Young Street Locals flock to this “secret” cafe tucked down Penny Lane (off Young Street) for the gourmet sandwiches. You can eat in or take away – and many choose the latter, as queues out the door attest to its popularity. 20 Young Street Cafe is a tight ship, and no-one has to wait too long to make their selection from the 14-sandwich menu. Our tip is to try the “Paolo” – fresh chicken schnitzel, lettuce, tasty cheese, potato, and sweet chilli sauce, lovingly smashed between two thick slices of fresh white bread.
The Re-Up – Mount Alexander Road The Re-Up has been serving excellent coffee and a tight but well-considered menu since 2017. Highlights include the eggs benedict served with 16-hour slow-cooked pulled pork, the evolving “nourish bowl”, and soft-shell tacos every Tuesday. Pale grey walls and apricot table tops blend with polished concrete floors to create a relaxed aesthetic. Tiered globes cast a subtle, warm glow over the space, while the floor-to-ceiling windows allow plenty of light for all the plants and foliage. For drinks, choose from ice crushes, juices and smoothies, along with coffee supplied by environmentally-focused Dukes Coffee Roasters.
Ascot Food Store – Ascot Vale Road In late 2017, model Megan Gale and her partner, AFL player Shaun Hampson, announced they’d invested in the popular restaurant-quality cafe on Ascot Vale Road. Owner and chef David Stewart opened the cafe back in 2014 with mate Cameron Wilson. Once a run-down Spanish delicatessen, it’s now an open, modern space with polished concrete floors, pops of orange, retro-style light fittings and succulent-filled pots. Stewart sources local and biodynamic produce for the menu, which has recently included salmon rillettes on rye with cultured cream pickles and egg, and a modern take on eggs benedict: poached eggs with pork belly, bearnaise sauce, pork floss and pickles. It’s unlikely Gale or Hampson will ever take your order, but no matter – this place is worth visiting for the food and coffee alone.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Caydon Property. See details of Caydon Property's new Focus of Mason apartment development, in Mason Sq, at the heart of Moonee Ponds.